South Africa and Brazil demand UN action on gay rights

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United Nations ambassadors for South Africa and Brazil have demanded more action and discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity as part as universal human rights standards, and to combat hate crimes.

The Ambassador of South Africa to the United Nations, on behalf of his country and Brazil, delivered a statement on 2 July to the United Nations Humans Rights Council, saying that LGBT rights are part of the Universal standard of Human Rights, and demanding action against discrimination and hate crimes.

The statement calls for further discussion and work on the issue of violence against LGBT people and their rights being part and parcel of the universal declaration of human rights.

This joint statement came after the first global panel discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) which was held in the UN Human Rights council on 7 March 2012.

The panel discussion was conducted due to a report from the High Commissioner from the council that showed the enormity of the situation facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It stated although there are scarce official statistics, in all regions, there is widespread bias in jobs, schools and hospitals. People have suffered sexual assault, been imprisoned, tortured and killed

The discussion ended in disagreement with some countries agreeing that further action was necessary and that SOGI should be part and parcel of the universal standards of Human Rights. Others, mostly lead by the Organization of Islamic States (OIC), refused to take part and along with some African states, China and Russia, rejected the idea, saying it was a ‘cultural notion’. The OIC further demanded ‘that this will be the last time that the Human Rights Council discusses LGBT rights.’

Since then the matter has not been discussed and the joint statement by South Africa and Brazil stated this must change: ‘We should not inadvertently undermine the promotion and protection of human rights by remaining silent.’

The joint declaration further rejected the objections by the OIC reaffirming that SOGI is part and parcel of the Universal idea of Human Rights and that ‘discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is no more acceptable than doing so on the basis of race, religion, nationality or other grounds… Nobody should be excluded from the protection of international human rights law.’

The statement also called to find a way ‘to end the violence and discrimination that existed in all regions … In the spirit of ubuntu in Africa, meaning “I am because you are”, all people share a link with one another through their common humanity, which also carries with it a shared responsibility to care for one another. The same principle underpins the concept of universal human rights.’

South Africa and Brazil further called upon all countries not to shy away from dialogue and engaging with opposing views (of countries objecting the inclusion of SOGI as a universal standard of Human Rights) stating: ‘reconciling universal standards of human rights with local ideas of culture was challenging but necessary work.’

Experts point out that the joint statement comes at an important time, as different countries and stakeholders from all regions consider next steps and follow-up initiatives in the wake of the panel last March.

Strong pro LGBT statements were also delivered by Norway, the Council of Europe, and civil society including a joint statement by ILGA-Europe, COC Netherlands and ARC and other organizations.